The United States, once the pinnacle of civil engineering, has a severe infrastructure problem. Roads are falling apart, bridges haven’t seen repairs in over 50 years, and public transportation in nearly every corner of the country ranges from incompetent at best to unusable at worst. Fixing it is not only a national security issue, but also a fantastic way to spur economic growth at home.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the US a paltry rating of D+ for its’ infrastructure as a whole. It is estimated that a whopping $4.5 trillion would be necessary by 2025 to fix the collapsing bridges, inefficient water supply systems and crumbling roads. So how did the state of US infrastructure become so poor? Primarily accelerating this crisis is the massive reduction in spending on our nations infrastructure as a percent of our GDP and the colossal shift rightward by the Republican Party over the last two decades has played no small part in it.
America was once the role model for how a country can build its roads, bridges, and dams. Projects such as the Hoover Dam and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System were both examples of generational innovations in science and engineering at the time both of which were led by Republican presidents. But the massive emphasis on privatization and scrapping public programs in favor of “small government” by the party has brought the country’s foundation to its knees. Republican’s tout the importance of increasing spending, but Trump’s heavily touted $1 trillion “infrastructure plan” is merely a tax cut gift to multi billion dollar corporations in a ploy to privatize water systems, roads, and public transport.
Another tactic used by the GOP towards its heavily rural base is that infrastructure spending benefits almost entirely big cities with little reward for smaller towns. But this is just not true. The ASCE report gives the nation’s drinking water infrastructure a rating of “D” including over 6 billion gallons of water lost every day due to faulty pipes. We cannot afford to make clean drinking water a partisan issue. Even more disturbing, is that aged and damaged pipes aren’t just causing water loss; they’re creating a growing lead poisoning epidemic. Flint, Michigan is well into its third year without clean lead-free water, but unfortunately they aren’t alone. Nearly 18 million people get their water from some 5,300 water systems currently in violation of EPA copper and lead laws including dense cities like Cleveland, Ohio. But with climate change “skeptic” Scott Pruitt leading the administration, it is highly unlikely this issue will be rectified anytime before 2020. Pruitt after all headed the effort to roll back regulations on prohibiting mass pollution of drinking water sources just this past February.
And a horrendous infrastructure isn’t just costing Americans commute time and poor health. It’s costing them real money. Estimates place economic loss due to vehicle repairs and poor fuel economy due to poorly maintained roads at a staggering $109 billion, well above the $91 billion currently spent on them. On average Americans spend over $500 a year out of their own pocket in repair bills due to shoddy roads. Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are far worse off with bills reaching well into the thousands of dollars for personal vehicle repair. This only creates an additional burden for the middle class whose cause should be sufficiently funded in the first place to mitigate economic loss.
The primary funding for maintenance of these roads comes from the national tax on diesel and gasoline and for years these had supplied sufficient funds for them. But the rising costs of construction has outpaced the rise in drivers due to vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient – i.e. lessening the demand for fuel – paired with the fact that the tax has not been raised for nearly 20 years. This has led to congress scrambling at times to fund the highway system from other revenues as temporary measures. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, funding for our nations roads and waterways has dropped nearly 20% since 2003. This trend is clearly not sustainable.
Another crucial part of an infrastructure plan is weaning the nation off of fossil fuel energy and moving it instead toward renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydro power in an effort to combat climate change. According to the Department of Energy nearly 1 million full-time workers are employed in the solar and wind energy sectors, over 5 times the amount employed by the fossil fuel industry. Additional investment in renewable energy will have the benefit of creating millions of jobs, while rapidly reducing our carbon footprint.
Investment in our nations infrastructure is not without significant returns either. A study by Standard & Poor found that for ever $1.3 billion invested in infrastructure nearly 30,000 jobs were created as well as an additional $2 billion in economic growth. Another study by Georgetown found that a $1 trillion invested in infrastructure would boost economic growth and place the US back on a path to job creation that is comparable to pre-recession levels. In other words this investment would create a staggering 11 million high paying jobs by 2027.
In a nation whose economy has seen incremental growth and stagnating wages since the 90s, investing in infrastructure is the key to a 21st century economic boom. Rebuilding roads and bridges, fixing our waterways, and transforming our energy system is also vital to rebuilding the middle class and returning America to a leading role in curbing climate change.